Some Helpful Principles in Hermeneutics


(this is based on an email message by Dr. Rowland Ward in one of those discussion groups, which I forgot)

Montgomery Boice's little work - "Standing on The Rock" (Tyndale). Not only is it written in layman's terms, it also does a fine job of discussing problems with scientific (so-called) evidences, and has a great section on the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. It's 157 pages, paperback and an excellent resource all around.

He includes a very quick and cogent section he calls "ten principles of proper Bible interpretation." I cover these with my congregation at least once a year. Perhaps Boss Stamper will forgive the length in consideration of the fine help it is. They are worth repeating here.

1 - The Principle of Unity. Since the Bible has one author, namely, God, the parts of the Bible must go together to form one overall story and present one consistent theology. If they do not seem to do this, we are misinterpreting.

2 - The Principle of Non Contradiction. Since the Bible has one author, one part of the Bible will not oppose or contradict the other.

3 - The Principle of The Analogy of Faith. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself. Less obscure passages will throw light on obscure ones.

4 - The Principle of Context. Bible statements are not unrelated oracles; therefore, they are not to be torn from their context. They must be interpreted within the context of the chapter, book and eventually the entire Word of God.

5 - The Principle of Style. The style of a passage must be taken into consideration. Poetry must be considered as poetry, parables as parables, historical material as historical and so on.

6 - The Principle of Didactic material interpreting Historical material. Historical happenings are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, sometimes normal and sometimes abnormal. Teaching material shows how historical is to be interpreted.

7 - The Principle of Purpose. The chief end or purpose of a passage's being written should govern our interpretation. It cannot be used to teach what it was not written to teach.

8 - The Principle of the Importance of Words. Thoughts cannot be conveyed without words. Therefore, it is important to study words and know their exact (and sometimes changing) meanings.

9 - The Principle of Obedience. The deep things of the Bible are hidden from those who refuse to obey its teachings.

10 - The Principle of Prayer. It is easy to err in interpreting any document, but this is especially so when we are dealing with one presenting spiritual matters. We must ask God to send His Holy Spirit to guide our understanding.

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Without devaluing these points I wonder if they lack sufficient recognition of the fundamental purpose of special revelation, and its redemptive/historical nature. They do sound a bit Western analytical to me.

So without being at all original I would say,

1. God's plan as revealed in the Old and New Testaments is consistent and a unity, and is based in the historical process which God has ordained in order that the goal of creation may be reached.

2. The Biblical narrative is not an exhaustive history but a selective one providing certain facts together with their interpretation. A correct interpretation of Scripture will respect the interpretations of one part of Scripture in another part.

3. God's appointment of the course of history is reflected in redemptive re-enactments of creation until fulfilled in a new beginning which has no end.

4. In this manner there is a distinct relationship between the narratives of Genesis and the climax of redemption in a new heaven and a new earth, and a ready application to the present of narratives belonging to a earlier historical time.

5. The context, nature and intention of each particular part of God's revelation must be duly considered in order to right interpretation, and the need for saving enlightenment coming from the Spirit of God by and with the word must be recognised.

Looking forward to further contributions.

Rowland Ward


Rev Dr Rowland Ward,
Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia,
358 Mountain Hwy, Wantirna, Victoria 3152 Australia
Tel/Fax Int + 61 + 3 + 9720 4871

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